Can Reality Television and Philanthropy Play Nice?

Guest Blogger: Amy Sinykin

I don’t feel the need to join the debate about whether or not reality TV is the downfall of our society. Because, admittedly, I like TV and have been known to happily zone out to an episode of Survivor or the Amazing Race. (Okay, okay, I may have watched an episode of the Bachelor once or twice…) So, you’d think when Oprah’s new show, The Big Give premiered I would’ve found some time to check it out. Clearly, its an interesting intersection of a personal hobby (Can TV watching be considered a hobby?) and my professional experience in the volunteerism and philanthropy sectors. Yet, something about it didn’t push it to the top of my television watching priorities. I was ambivalent.

Philanthropy itself is an art and a science… Could a television show appropriately convey effective philanthropy or volunteerism? Maybe. I attempted to find out, sat down at my desk and downloaded the most recent episode of The Big Give on my computer. (It’s really work, I told myself.) And, after 42:36 minutes, I’m still ambivalent. And it didn’t really feel like work.

In reality TV, The Big Give isn’t anything special. The show, and clearly its editors, put a microscope on a group of people being challenged to accomplish a task within a certain time frame. That description could speak to the bulk of all reality television programs. As I continued to watch and heard complaint after stress-induced complaint from the show participants, I realized that I had stopped thinking about the outcome of this “give”. Wasn’t that the most important part?

Yet, despite The Big Give’s common and bland format, the truth is, if a show about philanthropy and giving back can encourage others to give back who may not ever have given back, then more power to it. I’m just not sure it really does that. Only time will tell. But in terms of reality television, at least I’m not watching a group of over-indulged B-list celebrities figuring out how to baby sit a group of 3-year olds for an hour. Will I watch it again? Maybe, if I need to zone out sometime. But tonight, I think I’ll just take my 2-year-old outside for a little while. We need to start practicing now to pick up litter for the park clean-up.

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